Australia drought and saving water

Dave Riley blogs on the continuing serious drought in Queensland, Australia, saying that undoubtedly needed water conservation measures are having unintended consequences. The government is now mandating that 10% of sewage water be treated then used as drinking water. But this adds all manner of chemicals to the water, and if water usage is down due to conservation, then less of that is available to go back into the supply. Thus, the concentration of the chemicals will rise. He thinks the chemicals will cause fish kills too.

Also, with everyone building water tanks and storing as much water as possible, he asks, “what are we then supposed to do, ‘individually’, with the water?

Another problem is that reduced water usage means less water flowing into septic tanks, with the result that they stop working correctly.

So, I’m saying peoples: things ain’t as easy as they seem no matter what baloney is proffered as a solution.

Often, conservation (and recycling) programs are aimed at the end user, the consumer. Like it’s all supposed to be their responsibility. But that’s hardly a solution. The answers have to come from all levels of the production chain, from manufacturers and agriculture too, not just consumers. In the Central Valley of California, water is brought in from hundreds of miles away at subsidized rates to irrigate water-hungry crops in a semi-arid area simply because the soil is fertile. Growing crops unsuited for semi-arid areas using imported water is something that can not last long-term nor is it sustainable.

California better pay attention to what’s happening in Australia now. As should we all. Conservation and intelligent use of resources need to be implemented at all levels of the (literal) food chain.


  1. Yesterday 160 miners lost their jobs at a coal mine locally because the “drought had reduced the demand for coal at the main power stations”. A bit circuitous in way of logic, but there is a bit of a relationship…a we bit anyway. Australia is no stranger to drought but usually these phenomena are born in country areas with stock losses , late plantings and reduced yields. But Australian agriculture, aside from wheat, is irrigation dependent and this dorought whose intensity varies from region to region has kicked in on amassive sale. While here in southern Queensland we are thirsty, Northern Queensland is enjoying a considerate ‘Wet’ — the southern monsoon –and the Kimberleys in Western Australia are experiences some of the wettest months on record.

    The biggest drought on record was the 1898-1901 Federation Drought that was a major dampener on the unbridled expansion of agriculture and graizing since the white invasion. To give you an idea of its capacity to change the landscape, peaks covered with snow on the South Island of New Zealand — way out there in the Pacific — were being tinted by red dust blown from Australia.

    So all those things Woodie Guthrie sang about in way of the Dust Bowl refugees seems to be pending here big time. Of course undermining any considered response is the ruling ideology of economic rationalism and small government. We’re supposed to wait on the market to solve our drought woes.

    Where the debate on water kicks in is around the counterposition of desalination plants versus recycling — when deslaination ups the cost per mega litre and has a large energy demand for the process. So in a very formal way, the issue of water is in sync with the issue of carbon emissions as the two problems that won’t go away.

  2. During one drought a few years ago, watering lawns was made illegal. Los Angeles conserved so much water that the water company had to raise the price just to break even. Of course, the golf course in Beverly Hills was still green…

  3. The problems with water in the arid Western US are bad and going to get worse. Gov. Schwarzenegger has set up a “Delta Vision” process, since most of the water for ~ 20 M people and close to 1M acres of land flow through the delta. (The Delta is where you can see TV news coverage of the two humpbacked whales this week.)

    The whole problem is that the many of the stakeholders have been left out of the power lobby that is defining the vision for the rest of us. In the initial phase of this process there was not one representative from a community that was located in the delta. That is why Restore the Delta, along with funds contributed in the name of the Green Party, held the first community meeting to let citizens know what the developers and bureaucrats had planned.

    Here is some more background:
    Snow pack is at an all time low in the west. Check this chart from High Country News. The referenced article is a good overview of the current situation and the Big Ag, Big Developer, power politics focus on more dams as the solution.

    If this is not bad enough, Ex-House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo and the Pac-West lobby firm that he now works for, have a new $100K contract to lobby Congress on behalf of the City of Stockton regarding the levee problem that he could not fix when he was Chairman of the Committee with the responsibility to act.

    The information is all there. However, too many readers are much more concerned about whether Paris Hilton will be drinking bottled water in jail. As long as the media operates at that level, we have to rely on ourselves to figure it out.

    As for the politics in the zeros… it looks like the same old politics to me. The big money comes from developers and they get what they want… most of the time.

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